Dr. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist minister, led a 13-member religious leaders' mission to Iraq during the first week of January. The group included other clergy and lay leaders from the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Episcopal Church and Unitarian Universalist Association, along with an Iraq expert from Georgetown University. The group's four-day itinerary included visits to schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and humanitarian aid agencies. Following is Edgar's official statement from Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 2, 2003--We are a delegation of 13 religious leaders and experts visiting Iraq under the auspices of the National Council of Churches (U.S.A.) Ours is a religious and not a political delegation. We came to see the faces of the Iraqi people so that the American people can see the faces of children laughing and singing and also hurting and suffering. We brought with usdozens of pictures drawn by American children. We shared these pictureswith Iraqi children who, in turn, gave us messages to take back to childrenin the United States.

We are called by God to be peacemakers. War is not inevitable and can beaverted, even at this moment. President Bush reiterated, on New Year's Eve,his desire to reach a peaceful conclusion to this crisis and we are gratefulfor his words.

We came as humanitarian inspectors, not weapons inspectors. We visitedschools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating impact of 12years of sanctions on the people of Iraq. We touched babies sufferingillnesses that can be prevented by proper medication currently unavailableto the people of Iraq. We held the cold hands of children in unheatedschools with broken windows and underpaid teachers, nurses, and doctors.

UNICEF officials shared heartbreaking statistics of malnutrition, disease,and hunger with us. We are concerned by the increasing reliance of Iraqipeople on the food basket provided through the `oil for food' program, aprogram not intended to be the primary source of nutrition or a balanceddiet. We intend to advocate to our government for changes in the `oil forfood' program that will allow for humanitarian, educational, and medicalneeds to be better met. We understand the cruelty embedded in the `oil forfood program' as it affects ordinary Iraqis.

We worshiped with Iraqi Christians and in the presence of Muslims; and, weprayed with both. This is the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism,Christianity, and Islam. We acknowledged and celebrated our oneness in God.We attended a New Year's Eve Mass at a Catholic Church and a potluck dinnerat a Presbyterian Church--a potluck that would be intimately familiar toAmerican Christians. On the street and in informal settings we experiencedthe spontaneous warmth, hospitality and openness of the Iraqi people. Wefeel privileged and honored by these human relationships.

We asked pointed questions of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz regarding thehuman rights situation in Iraq, the opportunities for dissent and criticismof the government, and choices made by the government with the resourcesavailable to it. We want to be clear with the American people and the Iraqigovernment that we do not support authoritarian governments.

We came with `what?' questions--`what's going on?' `what can we discover?'but we were met with `why?' questions--`why us?' `why now?' We haveconcluded that we are opposed to this war because:

  • A war against Iraq will make the U.S. less secure, not more secure. Allwars have unintended consequences. We believe the entire region, includingIsrael and the United States; will be at greater risk of terrorism if wartakes place.
  • Widespread suffering and death will result for innocent people. So-called`smart bombs' do dumb things like missing their targets and destroying homes, water and sewage treatment plants, schools, churches, and mosques.
  • Preemptive war is immoral and illegal. It is theologically illegitimateand profoundly violates our Christian beliefs and religious principles. Asdisciples of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we know this war is completely antithetical to his teachings. Jesus Christ taught peace, justice, hope and reconciliation and rejected revenge, war, death, and violence.
  • When we return to the United States:

    1. We pledge support for the "All Our Children" campaign, a project of theChurch World Service and other partners.

    2. We will continue to build constructive, positive relationships betweenour nations and peoples through our ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

    3. We will meet with U.S. administration and Congressional leaders to urgethem to turn away from war.

    We will ask U.S. government and militaryleaders to take the time to learn the names and faces of average, ordinaryIraqi people.

    4. We will meet with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council toseek a revamped and more humane `oil for food' program.